Iran Threatens to Resume Uranium Enrichment By NAZILA FATHI and ALAN COWELL

Published: August 1, 2005  (must register to view original article)

TEHRAN, July 31 - Iran said Sunday that it would resume activities at one of its nuclear sites, but said it would keep its freeze on a more advanced process needed to make fuel or weapons.

The European Union, which has been seeking to negotiate an exit to the Iranian nuclear impasse, responded by saying Iran would jeopardize future talks if it carried through on its threat, risking a significant worsening of the dispute over its nuclear facilities.

Hamidreza Assefi, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Iran planned to tell the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna in a letter of its decision to restart work at the Uranium Conversion Facility in Isfahan.

The Iranian news agency quoted Mr. Assefi as saying Iran had taken the step because the European Union had failed to meet a deadline to produce new proposals to end the impasse.

The European Union denies that it agreed to a Sunday deadline and said in a statement issued by the British Foreign Office on Sunday that it would give "full and detailed proposals" to Iran in a week. The proposals are expected to include economic incentives intended to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear activities.

Some experts said the Iranian threat was largely symbolic because it related to producing uranium gas rather than taking the next step of enriching the gas to turn it into fuel for reactors or weapons.

Under international pressure, Iran suspended its nuclear programs in November 2004 but has frequently threatened to restart them, insisting that it has a sovereign right to do so. The United States believes Iran wants to build nuclear weapons but Iran says its programs are for civilian purposes. Since last November, Iran and the European Union - represented by Britain, France and Germany - have been negotiating over Iran's demands for an independent nuclear program.

The British statement said that if Iran resumed nuclear activities, it would be taking an "unnecessary and damaging" step that would make negotiations "very difficult to continue." In that case, the statement said, the European Union would take the issue to the International Atomic Energy in Vienna.

In Tehran, Mr. Assefi said, "We were waiting for the Europeans to offer us their proposal."

The European negotiators had said they plan to offer Iran a package of economic, political, security, and technological incentives by Monday. But Iran has warned that no incentive could persuade it to quit its uranium enrichment program.

The Uranium Conversion Facility turns uranium ore, known as yellowcake, into gas. The gas can later be fed into centrifuges and enriched to be used as fuel in nuclear plants or, if highly enriched, in nuclear weapons. Iran said operations at its nuclear site in Natanz, where the centrifuges are kept, would remain suspended.

The head of Iran's negotiating team, Hassan Rowhani, in a progress report on Sunday to President Mohammad Khatami, said he believed the Europeans were planning to delay offering their final proposal in order to see what the policies of the incoming president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, would be. Mr. Ahmadinejad is scheduled to take office on Aug. 6.

Mr. Assefi said the decision to restart work at Isfahan was final and its activities would resume under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency, but it was not clear if the agency had agreed to that step.

"We do not want to do any work without the supervision of agency," Mr. Assefi said. The agency's seals would be removed in the presence of the agency's inspectors, who are currently in Iran, he added.

Mr. Assefi said Iran had no interest in interrupting its negotiations with Europe, "but we can no longer postpone our people's demand for peaceful use of nuclear technology."

Nazila Fathi reported from Tehran for this article, and Alan Cowellfrom London.